In an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday, director Sanal Kumar Sasidharan wrote that he has chosen not to submit his film S Durga for consideration at the National Film Awards because he is sure that a “judicious decision” will not be taken with regard to his film.
S Durga (previously titled Sexy Durga) is a road movie that chronicles the events that follow after a young woman and her Mayalali boyfriend elope in the dead of the night and hitch a ride. The film depicts how the omnipresence of misogyny and sexism threatens the safety of women in public spaces. It was met with critical acclaim at international film festivals, winning the Tiger Award for Best Film at Rotterdam. The movie has been released through crowdsourcing in cinemas across India.
S Durga was denied a censor exemption for screening at the Mumbai International Film Festival in 2017. It was eventually screened after the Central Board of Film Certification granted the film a U/A Certificate after with 21 audio mutes. The film’s name was also changed so as to not hurt religious sentiments.
“Permission was repeatedly not granted for showing this film in the Mumbai International Film Festival,” Sasidharan writes in the letter. “The Information and Broadcasting Ministry under your Government had denied permission quoting the reason that the title of my film ‘Sexy Durga’ will hurt religious sentiments. My objective in the film was to raise the question of why a woman worshipped as Mother, Devi and the omnipotent Durga was treated on the streets as a sexual object by the male population of India, even if her name was Durga. Though I wrote to the Information and Broadcasting Minister clarifying that the film is not about Devi Durga or that the film contains nothing to hurt the religious sentiments of anyone, and though around 2000 people had endorsed this letter, the Ministry did not back out from its standpoint against the film. The direction to me was to get the Censor certificate.”
The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting also refused to include the film in the International Film Festival of India schedule, claiming that the name of the film’s protagonist Durga referred to a “revered principal goddess in India”. Sasidharan writes that although he complied with the censor board’s instructions, the ministry persisted with what he terms as an “antagonistic attitude” towards the film.
“Instead of protecting the artists and thinkers who advance different notions and discussion points, the Government under you always go to court with arguments supporting the outcries from mobs. Is this the great Indian civilization that you and your political party uphold? In a country like ours where all kinds of civilizations, ideas and religious beliefs that co-exist, unlike in no other country, do you think any independent thought can exist with unanimous consent?” he writes.
Sasidharan also writes that the allegations against the film were false because it did not incite violence or hurt anyone’s sentiments: “There is not even a single incident of breaking law-and-order and religious sentiments, which were the primary arguments of your ministry to block the film. When the film is running in theatres peacefully, it is proven that all those allegations were baseless.”